We start in FIRE – flames burn bright – and we are met with a girl of fire-red hair…
Harsh flames surround a girl in the midst of a daring and dangerous, adventurous escape…
And the girl’s and the audience’s hearts beat wild…!
It is next that we are then properly introduced to a young, red-headed, plain-named Mary Smith – but there is nothing ‘plain’ about her, though she doesn’t yet realise this…
Mary and the Witch’s Flower has all the hallmarks of the ‘classic’ fairy-tale – the first being the reluctant hero [Mary Smith here] led by forces (seemingly) beyond their own will on an unexpected adventure, ultimately to right some wrongs, if they can. There are also loud echoes at play of other well-known, more contemporary fables – think the rich worlds of films like Labyrinth, Willow, The Dark Crystal; think parallel places existing all at once in The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, and The Matrix series; think magic, good & evil, and powerful objects in need of harnessing or protecting a la the more recent Harry Potter films, and The Lord of the Rings even. It’s all here. All the traits. All the tropes. Though the key refreshing aspect to The Witch’s Flower may just be the unique ingredient of Studio Ponoc.
This is the inaugural outing for the newly-established Japanese animation studio, Ponoc – a splintered off-shoot from the departure of the long-standing, renowned Studio Ghibli. So often we are flooded with many manner of Western (animated) storytelling, and Ponoc likewise offers up the same level and quality of entertainment, yet also manages to deliver at the same time a rejuvenatingly different tone and sensibility. Here, we are gracefully provided the intoxicating and somewhat hypnotic experience of a ‘kid’s story’ which also allows room for time and space – to inhabit, to breathe. It is a much gentler and ‘passive’ potion that has been created for one to ingest.
Mixed into this sometimes madcap, fantastical world of alternate universes, witchcraft, and adventure, is a strong mature understanding of restraint and a potent sense of the gothic and nostalgia. An air of distant, haunting quiet… Soft, like the beautifully hanging mist that regularly permeates, floating by within the positively gorgeously-illustrated landscape.
Themes of Nature – Flora and Fauna – and their connections. Themes of Mind, Body, and Spirit – and their relation to one another. The protection of all these elements, and the ensuring that a healthy balance and symbiosis exists, is also on the cards. Science and Magic. Identity. And finding belief in one’s (true) self. This, and so much more is on offer. There is so much provocation for thought, but still, and possibly more importantly, it is also just simply a genuinely ‘good yarn’ and entertaining ride.
Witches! Warlocks! Magic! Action! Adventure! Animals – cute and monstrous. Add to that strong female lead characters – and of multiple generations – and on ‘both sides of the border’, both ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’ alike. WELL worth hopping on your own magical broomstick – if you’ve got it – getting swept up! – and engaging in the journey.
As one character states, “Concentrate on the FUSION between MAGIC and MIND”.
And is this not the very essence of storytelling itself? – The fusion between magic and mind…?
Postscript: In case you were wondering – it is most definitely a film for both adult and child alike. As my eight-year-old son commented afterwards, “Nice Magic Movie – with people from different worlds working together to help each other out. It was great – she [Mary Smith] was just like Hermione to me. It made me think and think and think – and I just need to think about it a little bit more…”
Peter Maple – On The Town
Mary and the Witch’s Flower
In Cinemas January 18.